By: Lauren Hauber, Biologist
Hey there, it’s Lauren here again. Last time I talked about my work with poison dart frogs. This time, I have an exciting announcement: two tiny juvenile matamata turtles have joined the Adventure Aquarium family! These young turtles, whose gender is unknown at this point, join adult male Hoja.
The way these little guys came to us is an interesting story. They are two of 100 hatchling matamata turtles that were confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I do not have the specifics as to why they were confiscated, but it is likely because they were being smuggled into the U.S. illegally; such is the case for so many exotic animals in the pet trade.
This is why I feel it is important to tell people that you should research the origination of animals that you are looking to buy and to buy animals that are captive-bred when possible. Once the USFWS acquired all of these turtles, they needed a place to keep them. In this case they reached out to the San Antonio Zoo in San Antonio Texas, who took care of the turtles until they could all be placed in new homes. This is where we came in and offered to make a home for two of them. The rest of the turtles will be sent out to other approved zoos and aquariums. I would like to point out that these turtles do not belong to us, as they are on loan to us from the USFWS. Nonetheless, we were very excited to receive these beautiful animals.
When they did finally arrive, they went straight into quarantine. We do this with all new arrivals to Adventure Aquarium, the reason being that we want to make sure they don’t have anything communicable and harmful to the rest of our collection. Quarantine for these turtles consisted of observing the animals for signs of illness and collecting their poop. I know that might sound disgusting, but poop can tell you a lot about the health of an animal if you know what to look for. Generally we are looking for parasites like intestinal worms.
Thankfully the turtles passed all tests with flying colors. When the turtles first came in, it took a little bit of time to get them to start eating. This is a common issue with wild animals that are brought into zoos and aquariums, as they are typically used to eating live food. In these cases I try to think about what it would be like to be the prey animal – a fish in this case – and then I try to mimic they prey with the food I have available. So what I did was tie a piece of fishing line to the end of a stick and stuck the fishing line through the chunk of fish I wanted the turtles to eat. I then moved the fish chunk in front of the little guys’ faces, trying to mimic the movements of a live fish. To my relief, it worked! Feeding these little guys is one of the highlights of my day and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. Just like Hoja, they are lightning fast and I still jump sometimes when they strike at the food.
Other than being much smaller and way cuter than Hoja, these juveniles are much more colorful. Whereas Hoja is more of a drab brown shade, the juveniles have a bright orange and pink color. The little guys also exude a stinky odor when I pick them up, presumably to deter predators from eating them. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s kind of like a mix between urine and spoiled fish. I don’t know about you, but I know I wouldn’t want to eat something that smelled like that!
In my opinion, matamata turtles are one of the strangest and most interesting looking animals in the animal kingdom. The greatest thing about them is they always have a goofy smile on their faces. Check them out when they go on exhibit in KidZone (Zone C) in May!